Huge Scale of California Pollination Event

BBC News   By Adam Hart   3/26/13  
Listen to BBC Radio Broadcast: On the Trail of the American Honeybee

If you're eating a Bakewell slice or a macaroon as you're reading this, then there is a very good chance that you are sampling a little piece of Californian sun.

Whether ground, flaked or toasted, almonds play an important part in our cuisine and a staggering 85% of the world's almonds are grown in the Central Valley; the 450-mile-long, 40- to 60-mile-wide flat-bottomed valley that dominates mid-California.

To get to your kitchen, those almonds have been involved in the biggest single pollination event on Earth.

Californian almond pollination requires billions of honeybees travelling thousands of miles in a nationally coordinated migration operating on a scale that is almost unimaginable to most beekeepers in the UK.

This week, BBC Radio 4 is On the Trail of the American Honeybee - the story of migratory beekeeping, and a story that touches on some of the most controversial - and disturbing - aspects of modern agriculture.

Bee hive
Some of the biggest players have more than 80,000 hives With over 1,000 sq mi of the Valley under almonds, the almond bloom of late spring is a spectacular sight. Almond blossom appears before the leaves emerge and the resulting white and pink flowers make great swathes of the Valley look as if heavy snow has fallen.

In fact, if you want a stunning visual demonstration of modern agricultural monoculture, then you could do worse than to take a drive down the Central Valley at this time of the year.

There are stretches of these roads where all you can see, from horizon to horizon and for hours on end, is row upon row of blossoming trees planted with absolute precision to ensure the maximum use of this prime agricultural real estate.

Hive mind

But in amongst the trees are bee hives and, once you get your eye in for their distinctive shape and colour, you start to realise that there are rather a lot of them. In fact, there are over 1.5 million hives in the Valley at this time of year.

With more than 20,000 bees in each hive, this means that there are more than 30 billion honeybees in the Central Valley and all of them have been brought there to work. Beekeepers from across the US have put their hives...